I remember Persona 3 Portable fondly, probably more than most. Many Winter nights as a teenager for me were spent hiding my PlayStation Portable under my sheets at night and playing when I was supposed to be sleeping. Every day to and from school you couldn’t pry my PSP hands on the bus. It wasn’t my first Persona game, but as my second it was the one to cement that this franchise was for me. I loved Persona 3 Portable, but there’s some baggage.
For a look behind the fandom curtain, Persona 3 fans can be very particular about what they consider the definitive version of the game. The original version was released on PlayStation 2 and falls in line with what you’d expect from a JRPG of the era. A home base town you can explore, time management systems, and dungeon crawling. All in 3D, and the game has a strong art style to keep the low poly 3D looking memorable. When porting this to the much weaker PSP, the strongest portable system on the market at the time, ATLUS realized something had to give.
They leaned in hard into the social sim aspects and turned the entire real-world half of the game into a dating sim visual novel. 2D backgrounds navigable with a cursor, no more anime cutscenes, 3D dungeon crawling, and a brand new female campaign that exists as a complete remix of the main one. A lot of people do not like this version, but taking the limitations into consideration I think this version has a lot of merits. Not just that, I think you could make a strong argument for Persona 3 Portable being one of the best dating sim RPGs (hello, Tokimeki Memorial) ever made. This is, despite what it lacks, my favorite version of this game.
The problem comes from this now being the most accessible version of the game, and it has been preserved in an inconsistent manner. We could sit here and argue about why this was chosen over FES, but that doesn’t seem like it’ll ever happen. I wish the option was available because this game is very much worth experiencing.
We don’t have the full story on how ATLUS has preserved its game assets, but Persona 3 Portable has given us enough to assume what happened here. The background art was either made at incredibly low resolution or the higher quality versions were lost. They have all been AI upscaled, and quite poorly. This will likely be the most common critique you will hear, and it’s not really one you can ignore given the shift to telling the entire story as a visual novel.
Most of the game is spent looking at these backgrounds, whether it is exploring the town or seeing visual novel cutscenes. They are always present, and the quality of the upscales will go anywhere from fine to bad. For example, the calendar in the player’s room is smudged and right in your face. They can hold up when not dealing with minor details, but given how the bar for this has been raised I think this needed to be handled with more care. However, I think this is one of the remaster’s major and only true flaw. It’s an egregious one, for sure, but to say the entire remaster is bad because of it is unfair.
The character art, 3D models, and dungeon textures have held up well and seem to not be poorly upscaled in the slightest. The portraits seem to be from the original art, and look clean and gorgeous. The UI has been cleaned up well, especially for the battle menus. The 3D assets have been upres’d well, and while I wish we could have had the original, higher polygon, PS2 models slapped in I’d be hard-pressed to say they look bad.
When you’re exploring Tartarus, the game’s main dungeon, this remaster is about everything you’d want from it. It also helps that this remaster runs at 60 frames per second, even on Nintendo Switch. While streamlined, Persona 3 Portable has always been the most fun version of Persona 3 to play. The remaster is even better in this regard, but I do see where they could have improved things further. The camera angle in dungeons is a bit too high up, and it would have been nice if an option could exist to maybe lower it a bit. You at least get the chance to control it with the right stick.
Persona 3 Portable also brings over some of Persona 4 Golden’s quality of life. The settings menu lines up basically 1:1 with the most recent re-releases. This means we get customizable difficulty on the fly, suspend saves, and dual audio. That last one is huge because we’ve never had an official way to play Persona 3 with the original Japanese audio. I’m not a voice track elitist, I don’t think there’s a wrong option here, but I love getting a chance to revisit it with voices I haven’t heard. The audio quality is pretty alright across the board, but I did notice the English voices seemed to be slightly lower quality. I’ll chalk this up to the voice recording equipment of the times though, but it is noticeable.
I get why Persona 3 Portable was chosen, this is the last version released and PS2 games were coded with the cleanliness of spaghetti and a dream. It makes sense from a business perspective, but Portable’s limitations don’t hold up much for a modern audience especially with Persona 4 Golden releasing the same day. Those presentation cuts might not be as charming, especially with how poorly the backgrounds have been upscaled for this version. If you’re going to play Persona 3 Portable on a console, the Switch version is without a doubt the version I’d recommend the most thanks to the smaller screen being able to hide the upscaling.
If you can look past this, you are rewarded with one of ATLUS’ most impactful works of art in the most accessible way possible. The art is not lost, even if I wish there was a version where we could have had the best of all worlds. Persona 3 Portable, as a game, is incredible and this revisit has made me realize how much it means to me. I get the disappointment, I do, but as a modern version, I think it holds up alright. This game deserves better, and I think if the backgrounds weren’t sticking out like a sore thumb this would be a glowing recommendation. As of now I can really just say that if you play this on Nintendo Switch you’re in for a good time.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by ATLUS